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Asylum seekers in London impacting shortage of winter shelter beds

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Many Londoners will have to survive this winter in tent encampments.

The dire situation is being exacerbated by the arrival of asylum seekers and newcomers to Canada who are occupying more and more beds inside shelters operated by Mission Services.

In a letter to city council, Mission Services warned that on Nov. 15, the number of asylum claimants and newcomers reached 40 per cent of the men at the Men’s Mission, plus 40 per cent (8 of 20) of the families at the Rotholme Family Shelter.

On Thursday, CTV News spoke to several men near the Men’s Mission who all claimed to have initially arrived in Canada at Pearson International Airport.

A 40 year old from central Africa agreed to be interviewed if his identity was concealed.

“There’s no space in Toronto, it’s occupied. We had to search through Google and we come to London,” he explained to CTV News. “They are taking good care of us,” he said of the services at the Men’s Mission. “It’s very kind. Very peaceful. We’re thankful for that.”

“How humanitarian are we being? How compassionate are we being? How helpful are we being to those who are coming here and finding there are no supports, no places for them to live?” fumed Deputy Mayor Shawn Lewis.An asylum seeker, seen on Nov. 30, 2023, staying at the Men’s Mission explains why he came to London after arriving at Pearson International Airport. (Daryl Newcombe/CTV News London)

The letter from Mission Services reads, “We experience challenges when it comes to adequately serving asylum seekers because their eligibility for supports is limited, and because they have a need for certain services that we are not set up to offer to the required extent.”

“We cannot expect shelters to be providing immigration services, to be providing second language services, to be providing those things on top of what we’re already asking them to do,” added Lewis.

He suggested the federal government is downloading its responsibility onto the municipalities and provinces that fund social services.

“The federal government has to take a serious look at its immigration policies and its refugee policies— because we’re bursting at the seams,” said the deputy mayor.

City staff confirm that between May 1 and Nov 20, 168 unique individuals spent at least one night in an emergency shelter space after declaring themselves to be either a refugee, refugee claimant, undeclared, or unreported status.

“It’s important that we understand the many pressures on shelters and services in our city. They do great work and they need the resources to do it,” says Councillor Corrine Rahman who initially sent a letter to council colleagues drawing attention to the challenge.

Earlier this week, council approved Rahman’s motion that the mayor be requested to advocate with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, the Ontario Big City Mayors Caucus, and the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for resources to address the influx in asylum claimants.

In addition, the mayor will write a letter on behalf of council supporting a request by the Cross Cultural Learners’ Centre and Mission Services for funding from the province to hire staff that will provide additional supports for Asylum claimants.

“Our advocacy to our Federal and Provincial partners must reflect the current realities in London. Those seeking Asylum and Refugees are struggling due to the affordability and housing crisis,” Rahman adds. “They are sleeping rough, staying at shelters and accessing community meals, we need to better understand their needs and address them appropriately.”

Earlier this month an asylum seeker sleeping outdoors died in Brampton.

A week ago, the federal government announced $7 million to open a new reception centre near the airport.

“The centre will serve as both a reception centre and a temporary shelter, and will be operated in partnership with community organizations who possess the experience, skills, and capacity needed to serve this population,” reads a news release.

In the meantime, Mayor Josh Morgan will lobby the provincial and federal governments for resources to help address the influx in asylum seekers.

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